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Columbia College head basketball coach Rob Hoyt had a three-year plan when he was hired to run the program in the spring of 2013. His plan was to rebuild the program from the ground up, and by the end of his third year, he expected to have his Jumpers playing in postseason.
Three years later, Hoyt’s vision has come to fruition.
The Claim Jumpers are snapping a 16-year drought at 7 p.m. today when they host the Sierra Wolverines in the first round of the California Community College Athletic Association Northern California playoffs at Oak Pavilion.
“It’s been a combination of a lot of things the last three years,” Hoyt said. “From the first recruiting class setting the stage for the success that we are having now. There have been a lot of people who have believed in us and an elite group of people who have done a lot behind the scenes. But ultimately, the guys have been busting their butts since August and they deserve it.”
On Monday afternoon, Columbia (16-11, 6-6 Central Valley Conference) received the No. 16 seed while Sierra (13-14, 9-5 Big 8 Conference) was ranked No. 17.
“Getting into the playoffs is huge for the school, the program and the community,” said sophomore Michael Meserole. “It’s a big deal and having a home court advantage is huge.”
The Claim Jumpers have been absent from postseason play since 2000, and to bring playoff basketball back to Oak Pavilion is a major milestone for the team.
“It’s a huge accomplishment for our guys because they are the ones who did all the work and deserve all the credit,” Hoyt said. “It’s been such a crazy season with departures and team adjustments and they fought through all that and really bonded together. They earned it.”
All the Columbia players were excited to extend the season, however, some players found different ways to express their excitement.
When freshman Bosten Van Der Veur heard they made the playoffs, he sent a text to Hoyt. In the text were two emojis — a flame and a dog — with the caption, “HOT DOG!”
Though the dream of winning a championship is the main goal, the majority of the Columbia players are happy to have the opportunity to continue to play the game they love with teammates who have become an extended family.
“I’m definitely happy to get another two days to a week, or however long we last in the playoffs to be able to keep playing alongside my brothers,” said freshman Lewayne Grant. “I know that it’s going to come to an end, so it’s nice to enjoy it for now.”
Having a home game is beneficial for the Jumpers who are 8-4 at Oak Pavilion. While Columbia excels on its home hardwood, Sierra is 2-8 away from Rocklin.
Both teams had a strong middle of the season, but fell upon hard times in the final portion of their respective schedules. The Wolverines have lost four of their last six, while the Jumpers have lost four of five.
“We don’t look at it as losing four of your last five, rather we have 16 wins as a team,” Hoyt said. “We want to get 17. Our body of work spoke for itself and that’s why we got in.”
“We are going into it as a new season,” Grant said. “Everybody has a fresh start. So we are looking at it like everyone is 0-0, so we just need to keep winning because at this point it’s win or go home.”
The Jumpers have not put a full game together during its skid. A prime example was blowing a 16-point first half lead Saturday night to the West Hills Falcons. Columbia eventually lost 97-90 in double overtime.
“We need to be able to play a full 40-minutes,” Van Der Veur said. “We’ve had a lot of games where we looked like a first- or second-half team. So a big thing will be putting a full game together with high energy and hard play.”
Although it’s been 16 years since the Columbia program has experienced playoffs, Hoyt doesn’t feel that the pressure will get to his players.
“We treat this as a normal game, although there is more significance to it than a normal game,” Hoyt said. “I think they will be very excited, as they should be. There is really no way around that, but I think after the first couple of minutes the guys will settle down and play basketball.”
With one final home game, Hoyt hopes the community will come out to support its playoff team. But he also has a feeling that it won’t be another 16 years between playoff games.
“I think the kids deserve the support and I would expect all the staff and faculty at our college to be there,” Hoyt said. “I would expect all the people who know these young men to be there. It’s really exciting times right now with this program, especially with the nine guys that play, seven of them are freshmen. So, there are very big things ahead and Wednesday is the start of that.”
Admission to tonight’s game is dictated by the CCCAA and is $12. Identified students, faculty, staff, senior citizens over 60 and children under 12 get in for $8. All athletic season passes will not be honored for playoff events. Tip-off is at 7 p.m.